Cage Match!

Battle of the Titans: Premium Theme Framework Smackdown

I have provided updates for the problems reported with each theme on their pages in this report. We can provide one update per framework as long as something significant has changed (as in a new release of the theme).

For a few days now, I’ve been looking closely at the four major theme frameworks. There are many premium themes. I, in fact, for the time, am using one from Woo Themes that I’ve modified to fit here. However, there are only four that I see as worthy competitors among the elite theme frameworks.

I will be using affiliate links when referencing all of them just because, if you choose to use any of them based on this article, I don’t mind collecting a commission fee. This does not indicate my endorsement of any of them. In fact, quite the opposite. I expect you’ll find me to be a hard, but objective critic of all of them.

The four theme frameworks: Thesis 1.7, Headway 1.6.1, Genesis 1.1.1, and Builder 2.3.11.

Report Scope and Prism

When I went about gathering data on this post, I heard a lot of back and forth from those in the WordPress community about why they liked or disliked each of these themes. Some of the issues were restrictive licensing that flies in the face of the open society that is WordPress. Other things were lingering effects from the Great Premium Theme Pissing Matches™ of 2008. Still others were about how user-friendly the themes were for users. In this report, I put all of that aside and look strictly from the perspective of infrastructure, data, security and WordPress core feature support.

All metrics that have been taken were created equally via a local installation of WordPress (eliminating network latency), with no plugins installed, 10,000 blog posts and 10,000 pages. The data points were taken in the context of a stress test and may or may not reflect actual usage. However, large scale stress is something to be concerned with for any site that is large or plans to become large. How the server handles database transactions, and file load is an integral part of a long term strategy. Each theme was deployed with no configuration changes beyond default settings provided by the theme. The results are fascinating.

This is a seven page article so click through to each new page to read the analysis of each theme.

Photo by icantcu

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What's the Point?

The Most Expensive Question

The most expensive question you can ask a consultant is, “What else do you recommend?”

This seems like a simple thing. At least if you’re a consultant. Potential clients approach you and they know they need something done. They may have a good idea of what that something is and they may even be able to provide a wish list of things to get done. However, for all that preparedness they ruin it all for their budget by asking, “What else do you recommend?”

Now some consultants do business this way. They are paid to help the client understand their needs and map out a solution. However, understand that this is a very expensive proposition in most cases. Hours of meetings and calls and emails exchanged back and forth can go into defining the scope, as we call it.

What's the Point?
Image by skipnclick on Flickr

We’ll usually approach the client with open ended questions to get a high level view of the client project.

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is your ideal end result?
  • What problems are you trying to solve?

Once I get a broad picture of the project, I can schedule conference calls with relevant parties to discuss each answer to each question. This is for the purpose of defining the details. Each call could take an hour or more and might span more than one call. This is all billable.

At the end of these series of calls/meetings, we still might have a bunch of email exchanging to do. This is even before we begin doing actual work. You can easily rack up thousands of dollars during this process.

The next phase of the project involves deliverables. Having defined all the scope details, the project probably goes on Basecamp or some similar project management service. Most consultants have a “floor” that is a minimum threshhold. I know people who will not work on projects below $50k. Others won’t work below $25k.

At this point, if the client is still not mentally committed to a path, there can be a lot of potential for “Scope creep”. That is, when the scope of the project slowly expands to incorporate other areas not defined in the agreed upon scope. Good consultants see this coming and can either agree to it pro-bono (bad policy), agree to it as an added service/feature (billable) or convince the client the idea is bad (it might be).

Scope creep is rarely good for the client, though. You’re definitely going to get billed for it when working with most consultants.

Bringing this full circle, however, you can mitigate your costs when dealing with consultants by having a really firm idea as to what and why you want to do from a high level. Leave the details to the consultant to work out, but strategically know where you’re going. If you can define the scope (wireframes are always helpful), you can lessen your cost even more.

The more we as consultants have to do, the more you’ll pay. We don’t mind helping, but if money is an issue, be careful and come prepared.

And for God’s sake, don’t ask “What else do you recommend?” We can make a mint off that question.

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First Mariner Bank: A New Shining Star in Social Media PR

For all the fuss that has been made about Dell, Zappos, Comcast, JetBlue and a whole host of other big names utilizing Twitter and other forms of social media for their messaging and client support, there is one that stands out to me as the most impressive. I say this because of my own personal experience in the past few days. These encounters with my bank, 1st Mariner Bank, are fresh in my mind and, to me, demonstrate a truly productive means of “doing the job” with social media tools.

As an independent, self employed consultant, times can sometimes be tough. In fact, in many way, it’s a feast or famine game. You go through spells where clients don’t pay, they pay late, or you just can’t get the business going enough to generate the income needed to run the business, and sadly, sometimes to pay the bills. So bank runs are important. They are pivotal moments where you might go from pennies in the account to plenty of money to fill the reserves. Those bank runs are always personally fulfilling because it’s a statement that, hey, I don’t have to go find a “real” job now… I can continue to press forward pursuing the dreams I’ve tried to find on my own for these past years. That deposit of some check is a rewarding thing that, honestly, sometimes makes the difference between having the will to go on or just quitting outright.

On Wednesday, I finally received one of these very important checks that was long overdue from a client. With a diminishing bank account, I jumped in the car late in the day and trucked the 45 minutes through rush hour traffic just to get to the bank and find they were closed. When I called their customer service toll free number, I was informed (inaccurately, as I later discovered) that the drive through was still open. Since there was a problem with my Visa debit card, I couldn’t simply make the deposit at the ATM machine so I thanked the representative and tried the drive thru. As I said, I discovered it was closed as well.

Irritated, I jumped on Twitter and went ballistic, venting about how I was going to close my account and find a bank that was closer. I was livid and was letting the world know. These bank runs are not small things for me. They take gas and money and time away from my book. I have kept this account because I always valued the 1st Mariner Bank Customer Service, though, but even that wasn’t going to be enough to keep me banking 45 mins away from home.

@FirstMarinerBank contacted me on Twitter late on Wednesday and commiserated a bit, but did little to actually help my problem. I didn’t expect that he (or she) could, but it was nice to talk to someone nonetheless.

Thursday morning, I got back in my car and drove from Bethesda back to Columbia, Md. where I made the deposit into my account and had one of those personal victory celebrations in my head. I could breathe easier. About an hour afterwards, without prompting by me, I recieved a DM from @FMBCustServ (who might also be @FirstMarinerBank – I don’t know) notifying me that he (his name is Matt Sparks) had saw the deposit go into my account and would work hard to get it cleared for me by the weekend.

Fascinating.

I received another check yesterday as well (but sadly, not before I made my bank run) and thanked Matt, telling him I’d be making another deposit today (Friday) and thanking him for his efforts. And I did. Today, I went back to the bank (that’s the third bank run in three days, if you’re keeping track at home) to make a deposit and, convinced that I’d be stupid to leave the bank after their exceptional show of support, not only made the deposit and didn’t close my personal checking account, but also opened up a new business account for my company.

About an hour after this process, I received another DM from Matt letting me know that he also saw that deposit and noting I’d be able to have money for the weekend. I already did, but it was a nice personal touch.

This is the way customer service should be. As a customer, I may not know what I want or need. Going the extra mile (not wearing the minimum amount of flair, if you will) is what keeps customers around. If we, as customers, feel valued then we are going to value you even more.

It’s the economy of trust.

Well done, Matt Sparks and 1st Mariner Bank. If you’re local to Baltimore, this is the bank you should be doing business with because they get it. If you’re in Suburban DC, as I have been since October, it might even be worth the extra drive to do business with these guys.

This post and DMs shared with permission.

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